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Fresno Officially Celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day for 1st Time

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Fresno artist James Martin displays a painting of local tribal leader Keith Turner. (GV Wire/David Taub)
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With the sound of the flags flapping in the wind, nearly 100 gathered at Fresno City Hall to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It is believed to be the first official city celebration ever.

“People have certain stereotypes about Native American people, indigenous people of this land. So we want to change that narrative, change those stereotypes, break down those stereotypes, and we want to be able to share our culture so people can see that we’re still here. We’re still alive.” — James Martin, a member of the Choctaw Nation

“We want to see it as a celebration of indigenous people, indigenous culture and share that culture with everybody,” said James Martin, a Fresno artist and member of the Choctaw Nation.

For Martin, he wanted to change the narrative of how indigenous people are viewed.

“People have certain stereotypes about Native American people, indigenous people of this land. So we want to change that narrative, change those stereotypes, break down those stereotypes, and we want to be able to share our culture so people can see that we’re still here. We’re still alive,” Martin said.

Bob Sandoval, of the Tarasco tribe, burns incense as part of a religious sanctification before celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Fresno City Hall. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Sponsored By City Council

The event was sponsored by Fresno city councilmembers Nelson Esparza, Esmeralda Soria, and Tyler Maxwell. They were present along with Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer.

“The celebration is very much community-led,” Esparza said. “This is the first time we’ve ever done this, to the best of my knowledge.”

Biden Issues First Presidential Proclamation

President Joe Biden on Friday issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, lending the most significant boost yet to efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native peoples.

While Native Americans have campaigned for years for local and national days in recognition of the country’s indigenous peoples, Biden’s announcement appeared to catch many by surprise.

“This was completely unexpected. Even though we’ve been talking about it and wanting it for so long,” said Hillary Kempenich, an artist and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In 2019, she and other tribal members successfully campaigned for her town of Grand Forks, North Dakota, to replace Columbus Day with a day recognizing Native peoples.

You can read Biden’s proclamation at this link.

Trump Championed Columbus Day

Biden’s acknowledgment of the suffering of Native Americans marked a break from President Donald Trump’s ardent defense of “intrepid heroes” like Columbus in his 2020 proclamation of the holiday.

“Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’ legacy,” Trump said at the time. “These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions.”

(Associated Press contributed to this article.)

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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